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20 Apr 2017

It’s all a bit fiddly in NYC’s Central Park


Wow, that’s beautiful.
It’s older than the USA.
Can I take his picture? Absolutely, you can.

Helen Sayles: The violin was owned by William Gregg, who was Robert Burns’s dancing master. And of course Robert Burns is Scotland’s national bard. The song that we sing round the world on New Year’s Eve, Auld Lang Syne, was written by Robert Burns. So we thought it would be lovely to give people the opportunity to see the violin and hear the violin next to Robert Burns’s statue.
Alistair McCulloch: It feels very special. It’s very different from a standard modern-day instrument.
Simon Skinner: It has been played for many years and will continue to be, and I think that’s the beauty of it. It transcends barriers and heritage is something that we all share.
Helen: There are so many people in the United States or Canada, actually all over the world, of Scottish or Scots Irish ancestry, who feel great pride in that ancestry and it’s just a very warm feeling for Scotland.

Listen to a 250-year-old violin associated with Burns being played in Central Park.

What possible connection could a beautiful spring day in bustling New York City’s Central Park have with Robert Burns, the Bard of Ayrshire?

Thanks to the National Trust for Scotland and its USA Foundation, a 250-year-old violin associated with Burns has made the transatlantic crossing that he once contemplated but abandoned.

The recently restored violin, which dates from the 1750s, was played by Burns’s tutor William Gregg at dancing lessons attended by the Bard in Ayrshire. It’s thought that Burns himself may have played the instrument too.

It’s said that Robert Burns learned to dance as a form of rebellion against his father, who did not approve of such frivolous behaviour.

The violin, which is older than the United States, is usually on display at the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum in Alloway – this was the first time that it had left Scotland.

On 29 March 2017, acclaimed violinist Alistair McCulloch carefully unpacked the violin from its case and treated passing New Yorkers to fabulous renditions of tunes associated with Burns, attracting an appreciative crowd in the process.

Fittingly, Alistair was performing in front of a statue of Burns, which was dedicated on 2 October 1880. This was the first statue of Burns to be erected outside of Scotland, gifted to the people of NYC by the St Andrew’s Society of the State of New York and the Scottish-American community.

The reason for the performance was to mark a fundraising gala staged later the same day by the National Trust for Scotland Foundation USA. The event, A Celebration of Scotland’s Treasures, generated vital funds to support the conservation of heritage in Scotland.

Alistair gave the violin another airing that evening as guests danced to traditional reels and jigs.

There was yet another Burns connection at the gala, with the presentation of the Great Scot Award to acclaimed US filmmaker Ken Burns. Ken’s work is very well-known on this side of the Atlantic – productions such as The Civil War and The Roosevelts: An Intimate History are regularly shown on TV. It so happens that Ken is also a descendant of Robert Burns.

On that very special spring day, a unique set of circumstances brought about a violin associated with Robert Burns being played in front of his statue and one of his kinsmen!

If you want to match the generosity of our American friends and help the National Trust for Scotland care for Scotland’s treasures, please join or donate.

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